Those of us who believe our politics is headed for a rendezvous with the consequences of prolonged income inequality gained a powerful validator yesterday: Pope Francis. The pope didn’t mince words in decrying the misplaced priorities of a capitalist world that worships money.
“How can it be that it is not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure,” the pontiff asked, “but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
But the pope didn’t just ask the question of why the world has let so many of its citizens suffer, he answered it:
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.
The pope’s words are ones that so far have been on the margins of the political debate. Many liberals here and abroad have challenged the wisdom of cutting taxes on the wealthy and shredding the social safety net, but few have condemned the prevailing economic orthodoxy of the last 30 years in such clear, moral tones.
Will our politics attempt to wrestle with the failure of our economic system to foster greater equality and opportunity? I believe it will; high unemployment, particularly among the young, and falling real wages are creating political disaffection and pressure unprecedented in my lifetime.
The pope’s words may prove prophetic; at the very least, he has put the emerging moral and political issue of our time on our table this Thanksgiving weekend.